Telling Better Than You Show

by MW Cook

I generally read two books at once. Never more and rarely less. A fiction and a non-fiction. This week I finished both G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and Branden Sanderson’s Hero of Ages. Both blew my mind. And I can’t really talk about either without (a) stumbling over my mediocre vocabulary or (b) giving amazing things away. Some I’m not going to talk about them.

Last night I picked up my next two books. The non-fiction is Paul Davies’ About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution. It’s borrowed from a friend and looks promising. The fiction is the much-anticipated Anne of Avonlea by the brilliant L.M. Montgomery.

You know what the neat thing is about Montgomery? She breaks the rules and looks good while doing it. For example, any novice writer will be able to tell you that it’s always better to show rather than tell. Here’s an example:

We walked into the room, angry.

Is not nearly as powerful as:

He stomped into the room, face red and hair disheveled. “I’m pissed!” he yelled, finger jabbing at his wife.”

You should always show.

But Montgomery doesn’t. She likes to tell. Which is funny, because when she does show, she shows like a star. Her descriptions of the places in PEI make you want to go there. But sometimes she’ll just tell you what’s going on. And when she does, she does it well.

I realized, just in the first five chapters of Anne of Avonlea that there really is not hard rule on showing and telling. You really need to be able to do both well, if you are going to write. Sometimes a skilled tell carries a lot more meaning and power than a bulky show.

Anyway, Montgomery rocks my face off, as she always has. Read her. Seriously. Especially if you’re into epic fantasy novels like I am. Montgomery provides a taste of an entirely different kind of fiction and storytelling. Check her out.

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